POSITIVE NEWS - ‘They turn up in torrential rain’: the men who walk together for mental health
In the UK, suicide is the biggest killer of men under 46. In response, male walking groups are launching to tackle the taboo of poor mental health and provide support to vulnerable blokes
“A while back, after a traumatic incident, I realised that I was not coping, and needed to talk to someone,” recalls Dean Corney, a firefighter with the London Fire Brigade. “I went to work the next day, got the chaps together and said: ‘Look, I’m not coping, and need to talk.’ The response was immediate and positive, with others coming forward and admitting they also needed help coping with mental health problems.”
In response, Corney and his colleague, Mark Smith, decided to set up a men’s walking group in Beckenham Place Park, south-east London, open not just to firefighters but men from all walks of life.
“We thought that it would just be the two of us, but 10 people turned up, and the group has since gone from strength to strength, with some men joining regularly and others dipping in and out, as they feel the need.”
The groups are organised by the Fire Fighters Charity and provide a safe, non-judgemental space for the men to open up, says Corney.
“Men often don’t want to show weakness in front of women or their families, and equally don’t want to come to confined spaces, such as a meeting in a village hall,” he says. “But walking in nature, in the fresh air is good for you in so many ways, and just being with other like-minded men, whether you want to talk or not, is helpful in itself.”
Across the UK, similar groups are springing up aimed specifically at men and actively trying to get them walking and talking in nature.
The Proper Blokes Club is one of them. It was founded by Scott Johnson, who began sharing videos of himself on Facebook as he walked around south-east London, talking about his struggles with anxiety. He urged other men to join him, saying “don’t suffer in silence, lads”. Weekly walking and talking meetups now take place in Southwark, Greenwich, Woolwich and Wallington.
Mental health is not a taboo in such groups. Instead, participants are encouraged to share their experiences and problems.
Talking openly about mental health is something that urgently needs to be encouraged, particularly among men. According to the Samaritans, the suicide rate among men is around three times higher than women in the UK. In fact, suicide is the leading killer of men under the age of 46.